My values and views on politics were influenced by growing up the oldest of five siblings in a small town in Illinois where the South meets the Midwest. I was raised Roman Catholic, which was a minority religion in our region.
There were no Catholic schools in Robinson, but nuns came in on Saturdays to teach catechism classes. When told I had to choose a saint’s name for confirmation, I read as many biographies of saints as I could before choosing Rose for “Santa Rosa,” who ministered to the poor in Peru. My Catholic upbringing remains a strong influence on my personal and political outlook to this day.
Like many families, mine had diverse political views. My father is a conservative Republican. My maternal grandfather was a labor union Democrat. Fortunately, they were both Navy veterans and their mutual interests in fishing, baseball, and making a better life for me and my brothers and sisters transcended their political differences.
My mother was a populist. I inherited from her and from my Catholic upbringing a focus on those left out and a skepticism regarding claims made by the powerful.
I experienced the civil rights movement and the Vietnam war in a white working-class small town surrounded by corn and soybean fields, and dominated by the two largest employers in town: an oil refinery and a candy bar factory.
A high school history teacher had a major influence on me. I wanted to understand why there were no black people in my hometown and why there were monuments to battles with Indians, but no indigenous people there anymore. He gave me books to read that put the civil rights movement in context and I came to be inspired by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and by Bobby Kennedy. Their deaths had a tremendous impact on me.
During high school, I watched the congressional Watergate hearings leading up to the resignation of President Richard Nixon on television, throughout the summer of 1974. I watched them with fascination whenever I wasn’t serving fried chicken, burgers, and milkshakes at “Mr. Drumstick.”
I couldn’t vote yet, but it impressed me that Congress had the power to hold the president accountable and that there were members of Nixon’s own political party who put the Constitution and laws of our country above their personal career interests and party loyalty. Others were quiet and complicit. Yet, the system worked because our leaders stood up for our values and principles, and chose our country over their party.
I believe we face a situation today that could be even more serious than Watergate. But are there enough members of the majority party who will stand up to the president, as many of Nixon’s party did then?
As a member of Congress, my commitment would be to the Constitution and laws of the United States over either political party. At times, that means demanding accountability from our leaders when they violate or undermine our country’s laws. I believe the Trump administration’s separation of families at the southern border was a travesty of justice for some families seeking asylum here and likely involved serious violations of our laws. I fault Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers and Republican leaders for not allowing congressional hearings to get to the bottom of what occurred and for not taking decisive action to secure justice for families still suffering.
Congress’ constitutional power and duty to check the administration’s actions cannot be undertaken lightly, which is why I cannot yet answer the often-asked question of whether I would vote to impeach the president. We have all seen plenty of smoke, but we won’t know if there’s fire until we evaluate carefully and fully the evidence from the conclusion of the Mueller investigation.
The investigation should be allowed to proceed without interference. I strongly disagree with Rep. McMorris Rodgers, who refuses to rule out impeaching Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and who says her confidence needs to be restored in our country’s Department of Justice and FBI.
She also declines to offer an opinion on the possible pardon of Paul Manafort, the president’s former campaign manager, convicted of various crimes and soon to stand trial on yet more. I do not believe he should be pardoned.
Regardless of who knew what and when, or what its ultimate effects, we know that Russia interfered significantly in our 2016 national elections. Given this consensus, congressional inaction to prevent future interference in our elections is simply unconscionable.
As a member of Congress, among my highest priorities would be reforms that strengthen the transparency of our campaign finance system and secure the integrity of our elections and democratic institutions. Our democratic system transcends partisanship and demands nothing less than our best efforts to protect and sustain it.
Lisa Brown, a former WSU Spokane chancellor and former Washington state Senate majority leader, is a candidate for the 5th Congressional District of Washington.
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